Archive for the ‘ Gaza ’ Category

Gaza hospitals struggle to cope with high casualty toll

May 15, 2018

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Patients with gunshot wounds filled wards and hallways in Gaza’s under-equipped and overwhelmed main hospital Tuesday, with dozens still waiting in line for surgery a day after Israeli soldiers shot and killed 59 Palestinians and wounded hundreds in mass protests on the Gaza border.

The high casualty toll triggered a diplomatic backlash against Israel and new charges of excessive use of force against unarmed protesters. The U.N. Security Council began its session Tuesday with a moment of silence for the dead, and the U.N.’s special Mideast envoy said there was “no justification for the killing.”

Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador, and several European countries called for an international investigation. Israel said it has the right to protect its border and nearby communities, accusing Gaza’s ruling militant group Hamas of carrying out several attacks under the guise of the protests. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, came to Israel’s defense, saying no member “would act with more restraint than Israel has.”

Monday’s border confrontation was the culmination of a weeks-long protest campaign to break a border blockade that Israel and Egypt imposed after a Hamas took over Gaza by force in 2007. The protests were led by Hamas, but fueled by the growing despair among Gaza’s 2 million people who face worsening poverty, unemployment, 22-hour-a-day power cuts and sweeping bans on travel and trade.

The protests were also driven by anger over the relocation Monday of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to contested Jerusalem. Palestinians seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as a future capital.

Even before the latest round of bloodshed, Gaza’s health system of 13 public hospitals and 14 clinics run by NGOs had buckled under persistent blockade-linked shortages of medicines and surgical supplies. At Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, the main health facility in the strip, these woes were magnified this week.

Anticipating a major influx of casualties ahead of Monday’s mass march, Shifa had set up an outdoor triage station under a green and blue tarp in the hospital courtyard, setting up 30 beds and stretchers there.

Throughout the day Monday, Shifa received about 500 injured people, more than 90 percent with gunshot wounds, said hospital director Ayman Sahbani. Of those, 192 needed surgery, including 120 who needed orthopedic surgery, he said.

By mid-afternoon Tuesday, overwhelmed surgeons working in 12 operating theaters had only performed 40 orthopedic operations, with 80 others still waiting their turn. In the orthopedics department, nerves were frayed Tuesday as relatives worried about wounded family members amid fears their conditions might deteriorate.

In one room, Ibrahim Ruhmi rested on a bed with bandages on both legs. He had been shot in the right leg, while shrapnel hit his left leg. Outside the room his mother was crying on a chair in the hallway, consoled by his 28-year-old sister, Faten.

Suddenly, the young woman started shouting at nurses in a burst of frustration. “His leg will rot,” she yelled. “What are you waiting for? Do you wait for it to rot so you can amputate it?” A Hamas policeman, who was stationed as a security guard on the ward, tried to calm her down, to no avail.

“If you are unable to treat them, why are you letting them go to the protests,” she said of her brother and the others who were wounded by Israeli snipers in the dangerous area near the border fence. Nickolay Mladenov, the special U.N. envoy to the region, told the Security Council on Tuesday that hospitals in Gaza were “reporting an unfolding crisis of essential medical supplies, drugs and equipment needed to treat the injured.”

He said a U.N. official who visited Gaza, “witnessed first-hand patients being brought in on stretchers and left in the hospital’s courtyard, which was being used as a triage area.” “There is no justification for the killing, there is no excuse,” Mladenov said, adding that Israel had a responsibility to calibrate its use of force. At the same time, he said, “messages by Hamas indicate the intention to use mass protests to infiltrate into Israel and attack Israelis.”

On Monday, Israeli forces shot and killed 59 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,300, making it the deadliest single day in Gaza since a 2014 cross-border war between Israel and Hamas. Two more Palestinians were shot dead in scattered border protests Tuesday, bring the total since late March to more than 100, the Health Ministry said.

Israel’s military said 14 of those killed Monday were involved in planting explosives or firing on Israeli soldiers. The diplomatic backlash against Israel was swift following the dramatic scenes from the Gaza border of frantic protesters carrying the wounded to ambulances in clouds of putrid black smoke from burning tires and flag-waving women in robes and headscarves defiantly facing Israeli soldiers in the distance.

Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador, and Israel retaliated in kind. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Turkey’s president of hypocrisy, saying that a “man whose hands are drenched in the blood of countless Kurdish civilians in Turkey and Syria is the last one who can preach to us about military ethics.”

Ireland and Belgium summoned the Israeli ambassadors to their foreign ministries for questioning about the Gaza violence, and the two nations, along with Germany, called for an investigation. China called on Israel to show restraint.

In Brussels, Prime Minister Charles Michel called the Israeli actions “unacceptable violence” and said there was a “clear lack of proportionality.” Michel said the violence and killings would be moved onto the calendar of the European Union summit in Sofia on Wednesday and Thursday.

German spokesman Steffen Seibert said the violence “concerns us greatly,” but also accused Hamas of cynically escalating the unrest. South African Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu said he was “deeply distressed and broken-hearted by the massacre perpetrated” by Israel.

Also Tuesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ordered his envoy to Washington to return to the West Bank in a show of protest against the U.S. Embassy move to contested Jerusalem. Meanwhile, there were no signs Tuesday that Hamas had made a breakthrough in shaking off the blockade.

Hamas has said protests would continue weekly, but it was not clear if it would be able to maintain momentum during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which begins this week. One leading organizer said the next mass march would be held June 5, to mark the anniversary of the 1967 Mideast war in which Israel captured Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Associated Press writers Karin Laub in Amman, Jordan, Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, and Tia Goldenberg, Ian Deitch and Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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1 dead, dozens hurt by Israeli fire in Gaza border protest

May 11, 2018

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — A Palestinian was killed and 176 were wounded by Israeli army fire Friday as thousands of Gaza residents protested near their sealed border — part of a weeks-long campaign to end a decade-old blockade of the territory.

Later Friday, vandals burned a fuel complex and a conveyor belt on the Palestinian side of Gaza’s main cargo crossing with Israel, causing more than $9 million in damages and disrupting the import of diesel fuel and building materials, the military said.

Friday’s clashes offered a preview of what will likely be a much larger protest — and possibly a border breach — on Monday when the United States relocates its embassy in Israel to contested Jerusalem amid Palestinian outrage.

President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy there “is causing the volcano to spew,” said 25-year-old protester Ahmed Deifallah as he stood near the Gaza border, a Palestinian flag draped around his head.

Deifallah, who is unemployed like almost half the Gaza labor force, said he would also join Monday’s protest and is not afraid to die. “We are used to confronting the (Israeli) occupation with our bare chests,” he said. “We are used to wars and no one with us but Allah.”

Friday marked the seventh weekly border protest since late March. The demonstrations have been organized by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, but are fueled by despair among the territory’s 2 million people. The vast majority are barred from travel and trade, while the blockade has gutted the economy.

As in previous weeks, thousands flocked to five tent camps near the border — some 15,000 people, according to the Israeli military. From the camps, smaller groups moved closer to the fence. They threw stones, burned tires and flew kites with burning rags attached to them, hoping to steer them into Israel to set fields on fire.

The area was quickly engulfed in thick black smoke from the burning tires. Israeli soldiers, some crouching behind sand berms, fired live bullets and tear gas volleys from the other side of the fence.

The Israeli military said protesters also threw pipe bombs and grenades toward Israeli soldiers and damaged the fence. Later Friday, Palestinians vandalized a fuel complex and conveyor belt on the Palestinian side of Gaza’s main cargo crossing, Kerem Shalom, the army said. It said the fuel installation is the only way to bring diesel fuel into Gaza for operating generators for hospitals and other key facilities.

The military distributed a video showing Palestinians cheering as a fire was set. It was the second such attack on the facility in a week. “Hamas continues to lead the residents of Gaza to destroy the only assistance they receive,” the army said.

Nissim Jan, the director of an Israeli company that operates Kerem Shalom in partnership with private Palestinian companies, said he spent large sums to repair last week’s damage. “This time I can’t repair and will not repair it. Where shall I bring money from?” he said.

The Gaza Health Ministry said a 40-year-old protester was killed and 176 were wounded by Israeli fire Friday. Ten of the wounded were in serious condition, including a 16-year-old boy who was shot in the head. Nearly 800 others were overcome by tear gas or suffered other types of injuries.

Friday’s death brought to 41 the number of protesters killed since March 30. In the same period, more than 1,800 were wounded by Israeli fire. Despite such risks, Gaza’s Hamas leader, Yehiyeh Sinwar, has said he expects tens of thousands to participate in Monday’s protest. He has raised the possibility of a mass border breach, comparing protesters to a “starving tiger,” unpredictable and full of pent-up anger.

Israel has said it will prevent any border breach and has stuck to its open-fire policies, including targeting “main instigators” and those approaching the fence, despite growing international criticism.

Israel says it has a right to defend its border and has accused Hamas of using the protests as a cover for attacking the border. Rights groups say the use of potentially lethal force against unarmed protesters is unlawful.

There are growing concerns that if Israel and Hamas dig in, a widespread border breach could lead to large numbers of casualties. The protests are part of a campaign to break the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after the Islamic militant Hamas overran Gaza in 2007.

On Monday, they are also aimed at the inauguration of the U.S. Embassy, which comes five months after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — a decision that outraged Palestinians as blatantly pro-Israel.

The Israeli-annexed eastern sector of Jerusalem is sought as a future Palestinian capital — at least by those supporting Hamas’ political rival, West Bank-based Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas seeks an Islamic state in the entire historic Palestine, including what is now Israel, but has said it is ready for a long-term truce.

Another large-scale protest is planned for Tuesday, when Palestinians mark their “nakba,” or catastrophe, referring to their mass uprooting during the Mideast war over Israel’s 1948 creation. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven out or fled homes in what is now Israel. More than two-thirds of Gaza residents are descendants of refugees.

Meanwhile, Gaza government officials announced that Egypt will open its border with Gaza for four days starting Saturday. Helping reinforce the Israeli blockade, Egypt has kept the Rafah crossing point, Gaza’s main gate to the outside world, closed most of the time since the Hamas takeover.

Egypt opens the crossing from time to time, mainly to allow people in special categories, including medical patients and Gaza residents studying abroad, to leave the territory or return to it. The upcoming opening was framed as a humanitarian gesture ahead of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which begins next week.

In Jordan, about 7,000 people participated in a “nakba” rally in an area close to the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Palestinian refugees and their descendants now number several million people in the region, including more than 2 million in Jordan.

Friday’s rally took place before a large stage with a view of the Dead Sea and the West Bank. One man walked onto the stage with an effigy of Trump dangling from a noose.

Laub reported from Amman, Jordan. Associated Press writers Ian Deitch in Jerusalem and Alice Su in Sweimeh, Jordan, contributed to this report.

4 dead, dozens injured as Gaza protests continue for fourth week

April 20, 2018

Protests have continued to take place on the Gaza border today as thousands of Palestinians demonstrate for the fourth week as part of the “Great March of Return”, leaving at least two dead and dozens injured.

Twenty-five-year-old Ahmed Abu Aqel and 24-year-old Ahmad Rashad Al-Athanna were killed earlier today after being shot by Israeli snipers, raising the death toll to 35. As of 3pm local time, some 40 others have been injured, adding to 4,279 people that have been wounded in the past three weeks. Several of the injuries were caused after Israeli occupation forces fired a barrage of gas canisters to disperse protesters.

According to Hebrew news site Walla, Israeli forces have been forced to evacuate one area of the border after protesters burned tires in an effort to reach the fence, with the fumes drifting into the small kibbutz of Alumim.

Arab media reported today that Israeli forces had positioned some 120 snipers on the border in preparation for the demonstrations. Israeli authorities have permitted soldiers to shoot at anyone who approaches the Gaza side of the fence, despite widespread condemnation from NGOs and the UN over the practice.

In preparation for the expected protests, Israeli authorities also dropped leaflets in Gaza overnight warning people against attending demonstrations and accusing the protests of being a front for Hamas to attack the border.

“Avoid using weapons and carrying out violent acts against Israeli security forces and Israeli civilians. Keep away from terrorist elements and groups pushing riots and violence. The IDF [army] will take action against any attempt to damage the barrier and its components and any other military equipment,” the leaflet stated.

Earlier this week, UN human rights experts condemned “the continued use of firearms, including live ammunition” by Israeli forces “against mostly unarmed Palestinian protesters and observers”, calling on Israel to uphold its responsibilities under international law.

“If Israel will not take credible and effective steps to investigate, and indeed, where it has congratulated its military forces for their use of force, then the international community must fill the investigatory void to ensure respect for international law,” the experts stated, referring to a video of soldiers celebrating the shooting of a Palestinian two weeks ago.

The Gaza Ministry of Health has also accused the Israeli occupation of deliberately targeting journalists and medics as one journalist was killed, 66 journalists and 44 medics were wounded and 19 ambulances were targeted.

The planned six-week protest, which began on 30 March marking Palestinian Land Day, is set to end on 15 May – the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe), in which more than 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced by Israeli forces in 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180420-2-dead-dozens-injured-as-gaza-protests-continue-for-fourth-week/.

350 injured as Gazans demonstrate for third Friday in Great March of Return

April 13, 2018

Protests have continued to take place on the Gaza border as thousands of Palestinians demonstrate for the third Friday as part of the Great March of Return.

As of 4pm local time (14:00 GMT), some 350 people were injured today, adding to the over 3,000 Palestinians who have been wounded over the past two weeks. There are reports that Israeli soldiers have fired teargas at the field hospital in the east of Khan Yunis causing at least ten medics to experience suffocation. Palestinian journalist Ahmad Abu Hussein and photographer Mohammed Al-Hajjar have also been shot, adding to the growing list of reporters wounded whilst documenting the protests.

Many of the protesters have burnt tires in an attempt to hide themselves from Israeli snipers. Near Khan Yunis in the south, protesters also burned pictures of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, whom they view as cooperating with Israel.

Israel has deployed additional military forces to the Gaza border in preparation for planned protests since last week as part of the Great March of Return. Demonstrators are calling for the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to the homes they were forced to flee in 1948.

Israeli authorities have permitted soldiers to shoot at anyone who approaches the Gaza side of the fence, despite widespread condemnation from NGOs and the UN over the practice. Last week, Israeli rights group B’Tselem appealed to Israeli soldiers to refuse any “grossly illegal” orders to fire at unarmed protesters.

The Gaza Ministry of Health announced that hospitals and medical personnel were on high alert as of this morning to deal with the anticipated influx of casualties. The UN has also highlighted the region’s strained resources in delivering treatment to the wounded.

“Gaza’s health sector has struggled to cope with the mass influx of casualties, due to years of blockade, internal divide and a chronic energy crisis, which have left essential services in Gaza barely able to function,” the UN agency said in a statement today.

Last week’s protest was marked by the death of journalist Yaser Murtaja who was shot despite clearly wearing a vest marked “PRESS”. Photos also emerged of Israeli settlers gathering at a military watchtower to cheer as soldiers shot civilians, as well as a video of soldiers celebrating the shooting of a Palestinian protester.

Israeli occupying forces are also quashing solidarity protests in the West Bank, with at least one journalist, Ramez Awwad, reportedly injured by live fire in the city of Al-Bireh.

The planned six-week protest, which began on 30 March marking Palestinian Land Day, is set to end on 15 May – the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe), in which more than 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced by Jewish militias in 1948 to make way for the formation of the state of Israel.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180413-350-injured-as-gazans-demonstrate-for-third-friday-in-great-march-of-return/.

1 Palestinian killed, 40 hurt in Gaza-Israel border protests

April 06, 2018

KHUZAA, Gaza Strip (AP) — Palestinians torched piles of tires near Gaza’s border with Israel on Friday, sending huge plumes of black smoke into the air and drawing Israeli fire that killed one man in the second large protest in the volatile area in a week.

At least 40 protesters were hurt, including five seriously, the Gaza Health Ministry said, but did not provide a breakdown of the types of injuries. Friday’s death brought to 23 the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza over the past week, including 17 protesters.

Friday’s march was the second in what Gaza’s Hamas rulers said would be several weeks of protests against a decade-old border blockade of the territory. Israel has accused the Islamic militant group of using the protests as a cover for attacking Israel’s border, and has warned that those approaching the fence put their lives at risk.

On Friday, thousands of Palestinians streamed to five tent encampments that organizers had set up at various points from north to south, each about several hundred meters from the border fence. In one camp near the border community of Khuzaa, activists moved closer to the fence and torched large piles of tires, engulfing the area in black smoke meant to shield them from Israeli snipers.

Israeli troops on the other side of the fence responded with live fire, tear gas and rubber-coated steel pellets. Water cannons trained a stream of thick liquid at the fence. Within minutes, several young men with gunshot wounded began arriving at a field clinic at the camp.

Mohammed Ashour, 20, who had been among the first to set tires on fire, had been shot in the right arm. He rested on a stretcher placed on the ground. “We came here because we want dignity,” he said before paramedics carried him to an ambulance to be transported to the strip’s main hospital.

Yehia Abu Daqqa, a 20-year-old student, said he had come to demonstrate and honor those killed in previous protests. “Yes, there is fear,” he said of the risks of advancing toward the fence. “We are here to tell the occupation that we are not weak.”

An Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, portrayed the protests as riots, and said Hamas organizers are trying to use them as a diversion to “open up the fence and then to insert terrorists into Israel.

Israel has drawn sharp criticism for its open-fire orders along the border, including the warnings that those approaching or trying to damage the fence would be targeted. The U.N. human rights office said Friday that it has indications that Israeli forces used “excessive force” against protesters last week.

Rights groups have branded orders permitting the use of lethal force against unarmed protesters as unlawful. A leading Israeli rights group, B’Tselem, issued a rare appeal to Israeli soldiers this week to refuse “grossly illegal” open-fire orders.

Conricus said snipers are used “sparingly” and only against those that pose a “significant threat.” A White House envoy urged Palestinians to stay away from the fence. Jason Greenblatt said the United States condemns “leaders and protesters who call for violence or who send protesters — including children — to the fence, knowing that they may be injured or killed.”

In all, 23 Palestinians were killed in Gaza over the past week, including 17 protesters, according to Gaza health officials. The six other deaths included three gunmen killed in what Israel said were attempts to attack the border and three men who were struck by Israeli tank fire.

Last week’s turnout was apparently driven by the organizational prowess of Hamas as well as the growing desperation of Gaza residents who live in what has been described as the world’s largest open-air prison.

The crowd size was seen as a test for Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seized the territory in 2007 from its political rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Ahead of Friday’s march, Hamas announced it would pay compensation to families of those killed or injured, ranging from $200 to $500 per injury and $3,000 per death.

The idea of mass protests was initially floated by social media activists, but was later co-opted by Hamas, with the backing of smaller militant factions. For Hamas, it’s perhaps the last chance to break a border blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt since 2007, without having to succumb to demands that it disarm.

The blockade has made it increasingly difficult for Hamas to govern. It has also devastated Gaza’s economy, made it virtually impossible for people to enter and exit the territory and left residents with just a few hours of electricity a day.

Hamas leaders billed the final protest, set for May 15, as the “Great March of Return” of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, implying they would try to enter Israel. But they stopped short of specifically threatening a mass breach of the border fence.

Israel has warned that it will not permit a breach of the fence and said it has a right to defend its sovereign border. Military officials have said Hamas has used the protests as a cover for damaging the fence, planting explosives and, in one incident, opening fire on soldiers.

Israel argues that Hamas could have ended the suffering of Gaza’s 2 million people by disarming and renouncing violence. Hamas has refused to give up its weapons — even at the cost of derailing talks on getting Abbas to assume the burden of governing Gaza, seen by Israel and Egypt as a prerequisite for opening Gaza’s borders.

Associated Press writers Karin Laub and Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, Ian Deitch in Jerusalem, and Josef Federman on the Gaza border contributed to this report.

Deadly clashes in Gaza mark start of Palestinian campaign

March 31, 2018

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Thousands of Palestinians marched to Gaza’s border with Israel on Friday in the largest such demonstration in recent memory, and 15 were killed by Israeli fire on the first day of what Hamas organizers said will be six weeks of daily protests against a stifling border blockade.

It was the bloodiest day in Gaza since the 2014 cross-border war between Israel and Hamas. Fourteen of the marchers were killed and more than 750 wounded by Israeli fire in clashes along the border fence, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. Another Palestinian was killed earlier Friday.

The Israeli military said thousands of Palestinians threw stones and rolled burning tires toward troops deployed on the other side of the border fence. It accused militants of trying to carry out attacks under the cover of mass protests, saying that in one incident, Palestinian gunmen fired toward soldiers.

The large turnout of the flag-waving marchers in the dangerous border zone was a testament to Hamas’ organizing skills, but it also signaled desperation among Gaza residents after a decade-old border closure. Life in the coastal strip has deteriorated further in recent months, with rising unemployment, grinding poverty and daily blackouts that last for hours.

Asmaa al-Katari said she participated in the march despite the risks and would join upcoming protests because “life is difficult here in Gaza and we have nothing to lose.” The history student said she is a descendant of refugees from what is now Israel’s southern Negev Desert. She said her grandfathers had lived in tents as refugees.

“I want to tell the world that the cause of our grandfathers is not dead,” she added. Gaza resident Ghanem Abdelal, 50, said he hopes the protest “will bring a breakthrough, an improvement, to our life in Gaza.”

He had brought his family to a protest tent camp near Gaza City — one of five set up several hundred meters from the border fence — where he distributed water bottles to women and children sitting on a mat.

Israel had threatened a tough response, hoping to deter breaches of the border fence. The Israeli military released video showing a row of snipers perched on a high earthen embankment facing the Gaza crowd in one location.

Israel also used a new means of crowd control Friday — small drones that each dropped several tear gas canisters on protesters below. People quickly scattered when they saw the drones approaching. The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting late Friday to discuss the situation in Gaza. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for “an independent and transparent investigation” into the deadly clashes and council members urged restraint on both sides.

Friday’s high death toll and prospects of daily protests in coming weeks have raised concerns about another escalation along the volatile frontier. Israel and the Islamic militant Hamas have fought three cross-border wars in recent years.

The protest campaign is meant to spotlight Palestinian demands for a “right of return” to what is now Israel. A large majority of Gaza’s 2 million people are descendants of Palestinians who fled or were driven from their homes in the 1948 Mideast war over Israel’s creation.

The 70th anniversary of the establishment of Israel, on May 15, is marked by Palestinians as their “nakba,” or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands were uprooted. The planned mass sit-ins on the border are also seen as a new attempt by Hamas to break the border blockade, imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas seized Gaza from forces loyal to its rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in 2007. The continued closure has made it increasingly difficult for Hamas to govern.

Other attempts to break the blockade, including wars with Israel and attempts to reconcile with the West Bank-based Abbas, have failed over the years. The latest Egyptian-led reconciliation efforts collapsed earlier this month, when a bomb targeted but missed Abbas’ prime minister and intelligence chief during a visit to Gaza.

Hamas and Abbas traded accusations after the bombing, signaling that any deal on Hamas handing the Gaza government to Abbas is increasingly unlikely. The Hamas leader in Gaza, Yehiyeh Sinwar, said the protests are a signal to Israel and the world that “our people will not accept the continuation of the siege.”

Israel and the Trump administration expressed concern in recent months about a looming humanitarian crisis in Gaza and appealed to the international community to fund large-scale development projects there, including a desalination plant.

However, such plans appeared to be linked to a deal on Abbas taking charge in Gaza, and Israel didn’t say what it would do if such an arrangement didn’t work out. Friday’s violence began before dawn when a 27-year-old farmer picking parsley in his field was hit by an Israeli tank shell in southern Gaza, the Health Ministry said. Another farmer was injured by shrapnel.

Israel’s military said troops directed tank fire toward suspicious figures on the border. Later in the day, mosque loudspeakers urged Gaza residents to head to the border encampments. A Hamas-linked bus company ferried protesters to the area. In all, tens of thousands gathered at the encampments, though not all headed to the border, witnesses said. Other Palestinian factions also participated in organizing the protests.

The Health Ministry said at least 1,000 people were injured, including 758 by live fire and the rest by rubber bullets and tear gas. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum praised the turnout. “The large crowds … reflect the Palestinian people’s determination to achieve the right of return and break the siege and no force can stop this right,” he said.

Groups of marchers threw stones at Israeli soldiers who responded with live fire, tear gas and rubber bullets. The military said thousands participated in the clashes. Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, commander of the Israeli military’s Southern Command, which includes the Gaza border, said he held Hamas responsible for the violence and alleged there were attempts to “carry out terror attacks under the camouflage of riots.”

The army said Israeli soldiers opened fire at two Palestinians who approached the fence and shot at soldiers in northern Gaza. It said troops also fired on Palestinians who had infiltrated into Israel.

The military had doubled its standard troop level along the border, deploying snipers, special forces and paramilitary border police units, which specialize in riot control. Friday’s protest campaign began as Jews prepared to mark Passover, and it is scheduled to culminate with the start of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, in mid-May.

The anniversary of Israel’s founding will be particularly fraught for Palestinians this year. The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has pledged to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to mark the occasion. The planned embassy move falls in line with Trump’s recognition in December of contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a decision that has infuriated Palestinians who seek the city’s Israeli-annexed eastern sector as a future capital.

Laub contributed from Ramallah, West Bank.

Palestinians prepare mass demonstrations along Gaza border

March 28, 2018

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Gaza’s embattled Hamas rulers are imploring people to march along the border with Israel in the coming weeks in a risky gambit meant to shore up their shaky rule, but with potentially deadly consequences.

Beginning Friday, Hamas hopes it can mobilize large crowds to set up tent camps near the border. It plans a series of demonstrations culminating with a march to the border fence on May 15, the anniversary of Israel’s establishment, known to Palestinians as “the Nakba,” or catastrophe.

The group aims to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people for the effort, though it hasn’t been able to get such turnouts at past rallies. Nonetheless, a jittery Israel is closely watching and vowing a tough response if the border is breached.

“When we march to the border, the organizers will decide then what to do,” said Ismail Radwan, a Hamas official. Warning Israel against targeting the protesters, he said “the occupation should not commit any stupidity in confronting the Palestinian crowds.”

Hamas says the demonstration is meant to draw attention to the plight of hundreds of thousands of Gazans whose relatives fled or were expelled from their homes in what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.

But the first-of-its-kind protest also comes at a low point for the Islamic militant group and the 2 million residents of Gaza, where conditions have deteriorated since Hamas seized control of the territory from the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority in 2007.

An Israeli-Egyptian blockade, along with three wars with Israel and a series of sanctions by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, have left Gaza’s economy in tatters. Unemployment is well over 40 percent, tap water is undrinkable and Gazans receive just a few hours of electricity a day.

An Egyptian-led attempt to broker a reconciliation deal between Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah movement took a major downturn earlier this month after a bombing targeted a convoy carrying Abbas’ prime minister and security chief shortly after they entered Gaza. Abbas has blamed Hamas and threatened more financial pressure, such as cutting civil servant salaries or fuel purchases, to force the group to cede control.

“Hamas has realized it’s besieged from three sides; Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, political science professor at Gaza’s al-Azhar University. “It feels the crisis is suffocating.”

He said that for Hamas, the protests can divert attention from their domestic woes while avoiding renewed war with Israel. “They think busying Israel with this issue may put it under pressure,” he said.

As Gaza’s woes have mounted, Hamas’ popularity has plummeted, and it remains unclear whether the group will be able to mobilize the crowds it envisions. Still, a combination of social pressure and curiosity in a territory with few options for recreation could help attract people.

On Tuesday, bulldozers were busy leveling the five camp locations from north to south. Trucks unloaded portable toilet stalls, and the Palestinian Scholars Union, which represents Islamic clerics, declared participation in the protests a religious obligation.

The demonstrations will begin after the Muslim noon prayer on Friday. Buses will carry people from all over Gaza to the five tent camps, situated hundreds of meters (yards) from the border fence. Hamas and Hamas-allied organizers of the “Great Return March” say the sit-in will remain peaceful through May. But the ultimate plan is to move to the border in mid-May.

Organizers say they are trying to realize the “right of return,” a Palestinian demand that descendants of refugees who lost their homes in 1948 should be able to return to lost family properties in what is now Israel.

Israel opposes any large-scale return of refugees, saying it would destroy the country’s Jewish character. The fate of refugees and their descendants has been a core issue in past rounds of peace talks.

Israeli Cabinet Minister Yoav Galant, a retired general and member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner Security Cabinet, said that Israel had set clear red lines. “Hamas is in distress,” he said. “They are using in a cruel and cynical way their own population in order to hurt them and to hurt Israel.”

He said the military was well-prepared to prevent any infiltrations. “We will try to use the minimum force that is needed in order to avoid Palestinians wounded and casualties. But the red line is very clear. They stay on the Gazan side and we stay in Israel.”

Violent skirmishes are expected even before May 15. Clashes have erupted along the border every Friday since Dec. 6, when President Donald Trump recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced plans to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv.

There have been a series of recent incidents along the border, including a bombing that wounded four Israeli soldiers last month. On Tuesday, three Gazans armed with hand grenades managed to cross into Israel and travel some 30 kilometers (20 miles) before they were caught.

The upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover, Israeli Independence Day celebrations in April and the planned move of the embassy in May could lead to additional clashes. Israel’s Foreign Ministry called the planned marches “a dangerous, premeditated provocation meant to fan the flames of the conflict and increase tension.”

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